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Cultural Encounters with the Arabian Nights in Nineteenth-Century Britain$
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Melissa Dickson

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781474443647

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474443647.001.0001

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(p.1) Introduction
Cultural Encounters with the Arabian Nights in Nineteenth-Century Britain

Melissa Dickson

Edinburgh University Press

Opening with an examination of the rhetoric of nineteenth-century modernity, the introduction argues that, faced with profound structural shifts, commentators of the period frequently deployed the language of magic and the Arabian Nights in order to communicate and make sense of their new, urban, industrial environments. Outlining the history of the arrival of the Arabian Nights in Europe and its remarkable propensity to proliferate, it establishes the temporal and structural openness of this story collection, which invites diverse application in multiple locations. In the case of nineteenth-century Britain, it argues, the tales were used to reflect and refract new materials and ideas, offering different ways for British readers to interpret and to frame their experiences. While engaging with questions of imperialism and Orientalism, the introduction draws recent scholarship on thing theory into the history of reading practices, in order to register the potentially transformative powers of reading in the context of the emotional, psychological and material relationships forged with the Arabian Nights in nineteenth-century Britain. Alongside the more familiar narrative of its prevalence as material with which to manage the Orient, it points to moments of exchange, immersion and receptivity to the realm of the other, and to narratives shared and adapted across cultures.

Keywords:   Modernity, Material Culture, Thing Theory, Empire, History of Reading, Childhood, Cultural Transmission

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